Last fall, Interim Supt. Laura Perille and her team came out to the community to talk about BuildBPS and new changes to education in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale – but she was met with some very disappointed parents at a number of K-5 schools who wanted a quick 6th grade expansion and were told that such a thing was years away.
Citywide, K-5 school communities flooded the School Department and City Hall with phone calls – pleading their case for a sixth grade to be added to their schools.
Their pleas were heard, and their request granted.
On Tuesday, Supt. Perille announced that the JP Manning School on Louders Lane would be one of six citywide schools to add a sixth grade to their school in September 2020 – well ahead of disappointing predictions made last fall to parents.
“We are very pleased, and hope that in the future they will continue to add on more grades to the Manning School,” read a statement from the Parents Association at the school.
That list of those changing also included the George H. Conley in Roslindale, the Nathan Hale in Roxbury and schools in Mattapan, Charlestown and Hyde Park. Also, five schools in South Boston and Dorchester will make the move as part of a plan to construct a new Boston Community Leadership Academy High School on Columbia Point there. In East Boston, six K-5 schools will make the transition to add a sixth grade in 2021 as part of an overall planning revamp of all schools there.
“The rollout of our initial Phase 2 plan in October did say that unless we were converting a middle school we were going to be able to respond to the pent-up demand to add a sixth grade. Charlestown and others were just one of many citywide who have long been waiting for this, whether it’s the Manning in Jamaica Plain, the Hale in Roxbury and about 35 or 40 schools that have indicated interest. So what we did was in response to that, I went back to the BuildBPS team and asked if we could come up with some criteria to identify a group of schools that could go early on an accelerated timeline.”
Perille said she heard from the Manning and a number of other schools that were ready to go and could likely make the transition with little impact.
The interim superintendent was facing a challenge, and she said she went back to the drawing board and came back with a new path forward.
“That’s exactly what happened,” she said. “We came up with those criteria, shared them with all elementary school leaders in January…We put the guidelines out and 14 schools responded to raise their hand that they would like to be a part of that. From that we identified the citywide schools…”
For non-parents, adding that one single grade might seem insignificant, but for parents of school-age kids it allays a lot of anxiety. Without a sixth grade, many parents had to scramble to find a school for one year to have their child attend before they headed off to a 7-12 school. Or, they had to choose a less desirable stand-alone middle school with grades 6-8 – a school format the district announced it will be transitioning away from. With a sixth grade, parents said, they can be assured of one educational transition after sixth grade if they so choose.
School Committee Chair Michael Loconto is hopeful that the large-scale proposal will lead to positive outcomes for students and families.
“The Boston School Committee is thankful for the level of thought, care, and planning that has gone into developing these broad and substantive BuildBPS proposals, which reduce transitions and move us toward a system that will better serve our families,” Loconto said. “These improvements demonstrate that students and families are always at the center of the district’s BuildBPS efforts.”
This month, the Boston School Committee named Dr. Brenda Cassellius, the former education commissioner of Minnesota, the next BPS superintendent beginning July 1. Cassellius said she is committed to take on the important BuildBPS initiative.
“Making sure our schools have long-term, sustainable learning spaces and programming is critically important to closing opportunity and achievement gaps, and is responsive to the needs of students and families,” Cassellius said. “BuildBPS offers an incredible opportunity to achieve a goal of having high quality schools in every neighborhood. I am proud of the commitments already made and look forward to engaging with the entire BPS family soon to continue this important strategic work in ensuring an equitable and excellent school for every BPS student.”
As part of the plan to qualify, the Manning had to show they were including their Special Education/ELL populations in the expansion, that they weren’t wiping out art and science space for expansion, and that they weren’t making significant impacts on feeder schools. According to Perille, they met all of those requirements and were approved.